Friday 17 October 2014

Eradicating Illiteracy in Bahrain - A Short History of Education

The United Nation defines illiteracy as the inability to read or write. It is estimated that more than 780 million adults are illiterate (17% of the world's population) two-thirds of whom are women. Additionally, an estimated 122 million youths (60% of whom are women) can neither read or write. In response, UNESCO launched (amongst other numerous programs) the Education For All program in 1990, which is a global education movement with the aim of meeting "the learning needs of all children, youth and adults by 2015".

In this article, we will examine the historical significance of illiteracy in Bahrain and the campaigns that tackled it.

Illiteracy in Bahrain:

In the first half of the 20th century, a majority of the population was illiterate. The 1971 census showed 52.9% of Bahrainis were illiterate. Following a series of campaigns, the 1981 census showed that 31.3% of the Bahraini population (238,000) could neither read nor write. One-sixth of foreigners (20,000 of 112,000) were illiterate (this was believed to be due to the influx of labourers). According to the census, the greatest percentage of illiteracy was seen in the 40-65 age range (in excess of 60%). In all age groups, more women will illiterate than their male counterparts.
Taken under fair use from Shirwai, May Al-Arrayed 1987
Despite 25% of the population being enrolled in public schools (Qur'an schools were the only other education institutions prior to them), the growth of illiteracy continued. This could be partially explained by the fact that, until 1972, all public schools were located in urban towns and cities, and none in the rural villages. State education was also free but was not compulsory at the time. Additionally, the prevailing cultural perception towards women education appears to have discouraged school-age girls from entering the educational system. The vast majority of these girls came from low-income families, and according to Shirawi 1987, reasons cited by parents included the fact that "girls learn all they need from their mothers", "girls needing more protection from boys and thus being kept home", "girls may learn new ideas that their parents may disapprove of" and that "it is expensive to send [all] children to school so it is better to just send boys".

As a result of such perceptions, an inequality evolved. In the 1981 census for example, just 3% of Bahraini males aged 10-19 were illiterate compared to 13% of girls in the same age group. Age was also a factor; the older a person was, the greater the likelihood of illiteracy. The same census showed that 82.7% of Bahraini nationals aged 50 and above were illiterate. Interestingly, the census showed that Bahrainis living in urban areas were more likely to be illiterate compared to their rural counterparts. This is believed to be due to the fact that the overwhelming majority of Bahrainis (80.4%) live in urban areas.

The Anti-Illiteracy Campaign:

Bahrainis reading. Photo credit: Ministry of Education Bahrain
The earliest recorded instance of an anti-illiteracy campaign was in 1940, when members of an unnamed influential national club opened several evening classes in Manama for the illiterate, particularly targeting the elderly. What is noteworthy about this attempt is that it was entirely driven by the people (and not by governmental bodies) and was brought about by foreign-educated Bahraini students.

 In 1948, a group of Bahraini students from the American University of Beirut (in their summer holidays, no doubt) provided free Arabic and basic arithmetic classes in Muharraq, an estimated 700 elderly Bahrainis were said to have attended. Further such attempts by national clubs and collaborations by the Education Ministry continued in 1952 and again in 1960. However, all these campaigns were exclusively for men.

The first campaign that tackled female illiteracy was in 1960 when members of the 'Nadhat-al-Fatat' group voluntarily opened classes offering lessons in basic reading and writing to women, especially the elderly. However, it is worth noting that all these campaigns were individual in origin. There was no general coordination between different organisations (aside from the Ministry of Education). No such formal coordination actually existed until 1971 when elected representatives of men and women societies, under the guise of the Alumni Club, setup a committee to tackle illiteracy. With the financial backing of the Education Ministry for books and other resources, eight classes were opened for 280 women and five were opened for 125 men in the same year. Challenges faced included slow reactions from the private sector and the inaccessibility of illiterates in rural locations.
Photo credit: Ministry of Education, Bahrain

In 1973, the Education Ministry took charge of the anti-illiteracy campaign, launching more than 70 Arabic-language teaching centres and 12 English-language teaching centres across the country. This scheme was the result of a series of recommendations given by invited UNESCO experts who conducted a study in the country in 1971. The recommendations outlined a five-year plan to eradicate illiteracy by creating 100 classes per year for 5 years for male and female illiterates. The plan also made education mandatory for illiterates between 10-44 years of age.

Other measures included the establishment of a national literary committee to oversee the campaign, the establishment of educational centres in all major settlements, the training of a competent teacher population, and enlisting the aid of religious leaders and mass media, Exact details of the programme can be found in pages 328-329 of Shirawi, 1987.

The campaign was largely successful. The only drawbacks faced were the high dropout rates amongst female students. Reasons varied from domestic responsibilities, pregnancy and childbirth to a simple case of lost interest.

As a result of compulsory education, state-funded public education and an array of private schools, the current literacy rate of Bahrain stands at 94.6%

Shirawi, May Al-Arrayed (1987). Education in Bahrain - 1919-1986, An Analytical Study of Problems and Progress. Durham University.

Wednesday 13 August 2014

Yang Kyoungjong - A Conscript's Story

It was 6 June 1944 and the D-Day landings were in full swing. The largest seaborne invasion in history saw almost 160,000 troops cross the English Channel in a single day and pour into German-occupied Normandy. Amongst the several thousands of German prisoner of wars (POW), American paratroopers captured what they believed was a Japanese soldier in German uniform. Eventually, it turns out he was Korean, why only puzzled the Americans more. What was a Korean doing in the middle of Normandy, thousands of miles away from home?

His name was Yang Kyoungjong and this is the story of how he was an unwilling veteran of the Japanese, Soviet and German army during the most devastating conflict of all times. 
Yang Kyongjong (left) in Wehrmacht attire following capture by American paratroopers in June 1944 after D-Day
Let’s turn the clock back to 1938 to a Japanese-ruled Korea. Japan was at war with China, the Soviet Union threateningly loomed above Japanese Manchuria, border clashes, and skirmishes were common. Yang Kyoungjong, a native from Northwest Korea, was amongst thousands of Koreans conscripted into the Kwantung Army of the Imperial Japanese Army, in response to Soviet border hostilities. In 1939, the unofficial conflict climaxed at the Battles of the Khalkhin Gol in Mongolia that saw the defeat of the Japanese Sixth Army and the capture of 3,000 Japanese soldiers, including Yang Kyoungjong. All were shipped to labour camps across the country. 

Fast forward to 1942 & Operation Barbarossa, the largest land invasion in history (with over four million Axis soldiers deployed along a 2,900km Soviet front) was in full gear . The Soviets, having lost enormous portions of land and manpower, began drafting thousands of prisoners (our friend Yang included) to fill in the ranks. 

In early 1943, at the Third Battle of Kharkov which saw the destruction of 52 Soviet divisions, Yang was captured and conscripted into the newly-formed Ostlegionen (German for “Eastern Legions”). Now why would the German Wehrmacht (Army) conscript an “inferior race” into its ranks when it has gone so far in spouting its racial supremacy rhetoric? Simple; manpower, manpower, manpower. Thousands of German soldiers were stuck in German-occupied France and the Balkans, to deal with partisan activity. The general idea was that the Ostlegionen would free up troops to be sent to the Eastern Front. 

Yang, now in German uniform, was sent to the Cotentin Peninsula of Normandy in occupied France, later that year. When the events of D-Day occurred, Yang was captured and sent to a POW camp in the United Kingdom, before being transferred to another camp in the United States. At the end of the war, this war veteran became a US citizen and settled in Illinois, where he lived a quiet life. He died in 1992, age 72.

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